Oregon Braces For Latest Round Of Food Stamp Cuts

There has been no action to circumvent the latest round of food stamp cuts in Oregon. About 140,000 Oregonians will lose a significant portion of their benefits if the cuts are allowed to continue there, and recipients and food banks alike are bracing for the change.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

In fact, most of those 15 or so states that use the Heat and Eat loophole have Democratic governors. Along with New York and Connecticut are the likes of California, Massachusetts and Oregon. More than 20 percent of Oregonians are on food stamps. That's one of the highest rates in the country. These new cuts would affect over 140,000 people there. On average, they'd lose about $58 a month.

That comes on the heels of a nationwide cut back in November. Congress had boosted food stamps during the recession as part of the economic stimulus, but that expired on November 1st. In Oregon, families lost about $36 a month. That might not sound like much, but Judy Alley says it is. She runs a food bank in Portland.

JUDY ALLEY: We saw an immediate increase.

RATH: Her food bank helps thousands of people a month, but she knew something was up less than a week into November when dozens of people asked her why their checks were smaller.

ALLEY: There was no preparation time. And for people who are living hand-to-mouth day to day, there was no way for them to compensate or adjust for this. So more people ended up going to our pantry and others. I've heard anecdotally, you know, throughout the state that we're not atypical. This is what happened all around.

RATH: Alley says her food bank has had to cut back on the amount of food that people are allowed to take and limit their choices. To stretch resources, she says families can only use her food bank six times in a calendar year. Here's what she says is worrying her. It's just March 1st, but some people have already hit that limit. She says it's hard to turn people away. She's already made some exceptions.

ALLEY: But I don't know that we can afford to do it all the time because we don't have enough food.

RATH: If the cuts hold in Oregon, the Oregon food bank predicts their distribution would have to rise by 44.5 million pounds of food, an increase of 50 percent. One of those hundreds of thousands of Oregonians on food stamps is a woman named Carly Poe. She's 33 years old, and it's just her and her 14-year-old son at home. In November, her food stamp check shrunk by about a third.

CARLY POE: It became a really big issue with trying to balance paying bills and paying for food. Sometimes we would just use no money for food because we run out of food stamps so fast.

RATH: It's important to Carly for her and her son to eat some fresh produce, but she says it's hard to afford that now. There's more frozen food and canned goods around the house. And if she were to lose another $60 a month...

POE: That would be really tough. I mean, we would maybe be able to last on two weeks if we stretched it. I don't know what else we're going to do.

RATH: Carly doesn't use food banks right now. She tries to stretch her dollars at the grocery store. But if the cuts hold, Carly and thousands of other families in the country may have to turn to other ways to feed their families.

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